Can neuroscience eliminates freewill and the soul?

Many scientists have suggestd that neuroscience is the answer to all mysteries including consciousness, subconsciousness, morality, even free will and the concept of soul. Is this true. Can developments in this field successfully bring down these concepts to basic biological mechanism, thus reduce God into mere human imagination?

No, it is not true at all. It’s a lot of fancy sounding nonsense. Dr. Edward Feser dismantles the idea here. This article is very easy to read and gets my highest level of recommendation .

As the article Marc Anthony points out, the problem with the argument you wish addressed is the assumption that all we are is the sum total of the physical parts (organs, cells, molecules, etc…). There is much work that more than suggests this is not the case, rather there is a duality to our nature that Christians refer to as body and soul. The mechanism by which our soul animates our body is, obviously, not known. One of the comments left on the aforementioned article anticipates within 10-12 years (now 9-11 years) neuroscientists will understand this. I think not.

Hi, tata.

I’m not a neuroscientist . I have been tossing the idea around in my head of maybe pursuing a second bachelor degree in neuroscience if and when I finish my current (and first) undergraduate education.

I think a person has to have a healthy brain for free will. Persons with various forms of brain damage may in fact lack free will in varying forms respective to their particular condition, and the area of the brain that is damaged that controls whatever functions.

There is a book I read that was authored by an extremely bright young mind that at the time was in the body of a teenager. The book was about his reflections on neuroscience and his defense of free will. It was this book - that was published - that got this Jewish teenager accepted into one of the United States most prestigious universities where he majored in neuroscience and philosophy before being accepted into medical school, if I recall correctly.

Anyways… I forget his exact arguments for free will but I recall he argued that artists and poets contradict what we would think as constituting predictable thoughts and choices. That neuroscience not only can’t account for this but that this should be considered evidence for free will.

But currently, what we do know about the brain is dwarfed by how much we don’t know about the brain. This does not mean neuroscience should be dismissed or that neuroscience won’t increasingly discover more about the brain and how we neurologically function. But I think it should provide some caution for us in not being too overly confident about every hypothesis or inference coming from statistical data out of nueroscientific research.

Arguably, the notion of neuroscience eliminating free will and the soul is deterministic.

Do you have any references to this “work that more than suggests” there is a duality of body and soul? TIA

Also, it seems to me that not only do supernaturalists not have an explanation for that mechanism, they also don’t have a methodology that can reliably resolve competing truth claims about that mechanism if those competing claims come from others using supernatural explanations.

Oh boy. I suddenly understand that sense of dread quantum physicists have when attempting to talk about their work - mostly with people who are interested in quantum physics but not so much the scientific aspects of the work…more the philosophic.

I can tell you point blank having done a lot of work in this field, no one wakes up in the morning and says “I’m going to Prove or Disprove Consciousness today!”

In fact many of the topics you just raised are usually brought up by folks who inhabit the academic field of the Philosophy of Mind - not really by us…at least not professionally.

Here’s a hint: one of the reasons why you have so many people walking around talking about the wonders of Neuroscience and staking out a variety of positions such as:



(and there’s a lot more actually)

Is because…we’re not anywhere near to disproving any of their positions yet. Its precisely because there’s a lack of data that EVERYONE (from Sam Harris to the Dalai Lama) is staking out positions.

I would compare this to making an argument about whether or not life exists on other planets. Of course anyone could make an argument about that either way…

…yet we lack the capability of verifying any of their answers…yet…

It has been determined by quantum mechanics that it is impossible to predict the future of a single electron. It is only possible to predict probabilities.

  1. It is impossible to determine what elementary particles will do.
  2. Each human being is made up of elementary particles.
  3. In order for the actions of human beings to be determined, the actions of the particles making up the human beings must be determined.
  4. This is impossible as stated in (1)
  5. Therefore it is impossible to determine what human beings will do.

Neuroscience can proclaim whatever it wishes and it won’t alter what is actually true.

It’s clear that free will and the soul act on the mind and therefore the body, so there would have to be some biological correspondence to it.


Because neuroscience proclaims something does not necessarily make it false either. On the contrary, because it is a source of authoritative expertise, it is more likely to be true.

Secondly, free will and the soul do not act on the mind, rather free will and the mind are both operations of the soul.

That is indeed true. My point in my post was simply to say that just because neuroscience claims something to be true, does not make it true.

I think we might actually be in agreement. Could you expound on this?


The soul is the form of the body and is indivisible. Nevertheless, it has 2 operations. But you will ask, “How is this possible?” It is possible in the same way that the voice can operate by singing and operate by speaking. There ar 2 operations yet 1 voice. Likewise, the soul is one but has 2 operations which are the will and the intellect. And because the will and intellect can be predicated of the soul exclusively, we come to the conclusion that the soul can exist apart from the body in the way that an animal’s soul cannot. The intellect of man is different because it is rational, and the will is different because it is fixed on those things that are eternal such as truth, justice, and charity. But animals share in neither this type of intellect, nor do they hold eternal concepts or universal ideas as objects of their will. Further reading: Aristotle De Anima and Summa Contra Gentiles

I don’t know what the acronym “TIA” means, but I can tell you that Dr. Feser did just, in fact, write an article on St. Thomas’s conception of the duality of the body and soul. It’s expressed in a different way than most people would think, though.

St. Thomas does not teach that the soul and body are separate substances.

The Summa Theologica reads "But if anyone says that the intellectual soul is not the form of the body he must first explain how it is that this action of understanding is the action of this particular man; for each one is conscious that it is himself who understands. Now an action may be attributed to anyone in three ways, as is clear from the Philosopher (Phys. v, 1); for a thing is said to move or act, either by virtue of its whole self, for instance, as a physician heals; or by virtue of a part, as a man sees by his eye; or through an accidental quality, as when we say that something that is white builds, because it is accidental to the builder to be white. So when we say that Socrates or Plato understands, it is clear that this is not attributed to him accidentally; since it is ascribed to him as man, which is predicated of him essentially. We must therefore say either that Socrates understands by virtue of his whole self, as Plato maintained, holding that man is an intellectual soul; or that intelligence is a part of Socrates. The first cannot stand, as was shown above (Question 75, Article 4), for this reason, that it is one and the same man who is conscious both that he understands, and that he senses. But one cannot sense without a body: therefore the body must be some part of man. It follows therefore that the intellect by which Socrates understands is a part of Socrates, so that in some way it is united to the body of Socrates. "

  1. Did you read the article? It’s all about why Dr. Feser considers it acceptable to call Aquinas’s position a type of dualism, which another philosopher objected to.

  2. When did I EVER imply that they were two separate substances??? :confused: I don’t believe that at all, and ever since I took an interest in Aquinas I never did.

If you are truly interested in Aquinas, it is best to read him rather than to read someone who speaks for him. St. Thomas puts things as simply as possible. Anyone who claims to ‘sum up’ what he says or reinterpret it cannot be speaking truly. St. Thomas can be expanded upon but not further simplified. To call it a “duality” confuses the issue since St. Thomas calls it a “unity”. “Duality” and “Unity” are not the same thing. I would rather ask why it matters what Dr. Feser thinks regarding St. Thomas, or why it is necessary, since St. Thomas goes into excruciating detail on every topic he writes in order to make himself clear.

So why are you here if not to explain Aquinas?

Sorry, you can hold that opinion, but I don’t buy it. Did you read the article? I suggest you do. Dr. Feser EXPLAINS why he thinks it matters.

Also, I’ve read the Summa (no, not the entire thing, but the sections on the existence of God, qualities and simplicity of God, and the Trinity, specifically. All are quite fascinating). It is NOT clear to modern readers. It’s simplified, yes, but uses terminology in a completely different way than we use it today, and holds to a metaphysical position that has since been heavily challenged.

I suggest you e-mail Dr. Feser. I have-both times he responded within a day.

If you want to know why Dr. Feser thinks St. Thomas can be referred to, in modern terminology, as a “hylemorphic dualist”, here’s the conclusion. Bolding mine.:

And that is more than enough to make him a dualist as “dualism” is generally understood today. To the vast majority of contemporary philosophers, to say “Aquinas thinks the soul is immaterial and survives the death of the body, but he isn’t a dualist” sounds a little like saying “Aquinas believed the existence of God can be demonstrated, but he isn’t a theist.”

Also, saying why there need to be other Thomistic philosophers rather than Aquinas is silly. St. Thomas was brilliant, sure, but even within the bounds of his metaphysical framework its okay to see if he left some problems unaddressed or inadequately rebutted.

I advised you to allow Aquinas to explain himself. I then quoted directly from his text. Whether or not you “buy an opinion” has no bearing on whether it is true or false. Because a position is challenged does not mean it is wrong or weakened. The reason it is not clear to modern readers is not the fault of St. Thomas, but because it takes a vast amount of learning to understand it. If someone’s complaint is that the language is archaic, then there is nothing stopping them from learning Latin and reading it in its original language. Secondly, if one wants quick answers without taking the time to understand why those answers are true, they can simply look to the authority of the Church. There is no point in appealing to Dr. Feser to people who do not consider him an authority.

I would strongly recommend the book Aping Mankind by Raymond Tallis, who thoroughly debunks Neuromania that is related to this issue. The beauty: Tallis is both a neuroscientist and an atheist, which makes his critique the more devastating. Here is the Amazon link to the book and my review of it:

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